NEW YORK (AP) — Penn State has 67 scholarship players on its football roster and coach Bill O’Brien sees no reason why that will change significantly by the time the season starts Aug. 31.
O’Brien said Wednesday he doesn’t expect a second wave of departures from the Nittany Lions, even though NCAA sanctions still allow his players to transfer without sitting out a season.
Ten players transferred out of Penn State after the NCAA handed down severe sanctions last summer in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. O’Brien was forced to prepare for his first preseason practice with uncertainty over who would show up for training camp.
Players can still leave without penalty until the 2013 season starts, but O’Brien said he has not spent any time this offseason re-recruiting his guys.
“I don’t see the mass exodus coming,” O’Brien said before speaking to a banquet hall full of Penn State supporters in midtown Manhattan. “We’re going to coach who shows up July 31st for training camp. I think we’re way past that. I think our kids are committed.”
The Penn State coaches’ caravan was making one of its final stops before heading home to State College, Pa., and O’Brien, as usual, was the headliner. Men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers, field hockey coach Charlene Morett and men’s volleyball coach Mark Pavlik also spoke, but it was O’Brien who received a standing ovation at the fundraiser.
O’Brien quoted his predecessor, Joe Paterno, as he finished off his 15-minute pep talk, appealing to the crowd to fill Beaver Stadium on Saturdays this season.
“I don’t want your two cents, but I do want your money,” O’Brien said, drawing laughs and applause.
Penn State, with an average attendance of about 96,700, was at 91-percent capacity in 2012, down from the usual 97-98 percent. The Nittany Lions went 8-4 in O’Brien’s first season.
After O’Brien took over, the NCAA docked Penn State 20 scholarships per year for three years, starting with the latest recruiting class. The Nittany Lions are in the second season of a four-year postseason ban. The NCAA allows major college football teams a maximum of 85 scholarship players, and most of Penn State’s competition will be at or near that number.
“I believe we have a really good core of players. I’m not going to get into whether we can win the Big Ten or not,” he said. “But I think we have really good core players and believe we can be a competitive team every single Saturday because of the type of roster that we have right now.
“Going forward when you get into the ’14-, ’15-, ’16-range it becomes more and more difficult. I would never ever count these Penn State kids out or this Penn State program out. We’ll show up every Saturday. Our job is very, very challenging, but I think we can be very, very competitive.”
O’Brien said the possibility of players transferring out during the summer was never a factor in how he and his staff approached spring practice and preparation for the 2013 season.
“We don’t go to work every day begging our kids to stay here. We don’t think about that,” O’Brien said. “What I’ve been struck with at Penn State is we have fantastic guys, we have a great locker room.”
O’Brien, who was the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator before taking over at Penn State, was approached by NFL teams looking for a head coach in the offseason, but he says the conversations never got far.
“In any line of work, if you’re being recruited for another job, if you’re doing right by your family, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to listen,” he said. “I love Penn State. I have a connection with the guys I coach.
“I have a ton of respect for the National Football League from my time there. It was an honor to be contacted by some of those teams. But at the end of the day I felt that being here only a year wasn’t the right thing to do. I wasn’t offered any jobs, but I felt like it was time to say, ‘I’m here at Penn State and I want to help this program get through a tough time.’”
AP Sports Writer Genaro C. Armas in State College, Pa., contributed.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at http://www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP